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
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

Recent Posts

Are You Neglecting Your Professional Development?

Do Incentives Pay Off?

How to Unleash Your Presence as a Leader

3 Tips For Assuming an Existing Project

Project Management for Business Transformation

Are You Neglecting Your Professional Development?

By Conrado Morlan

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” ―Benjamin Franklin

I’ve heard from colleagues in project management that they don’t have access to professional development opportunities to help them improve and increase their capabilities. That led me to do some research. I found Training magazine's Training Industry Report, which is recognized as the training industry’s most trusted source of data on budgets, staffing and programs in the United States. It found that U.S. companies spent over US$90 billion on training and development activities in 2017, which represents a year-over-year increase of 32.5 percent. 

With that information on hand, I took the opportunity to ask my colleagues if the companies they work for are among the organizations spending money on training and professional development.

Some of them were fortunate to work for companies with professional development budgets, but they didn’t take the training due to their workload or personal reasons. In other words, the opportunity was there but it was neglected.

For those who worked for companies without professional development dollars, their main complaint was that the company did not appreciate them and the opportunities to develop more capabilities were so limited.

I asked them: Who takes charge of your professional development? You, or the company you work for? Many of them responded that the responsibility fell to the company they work for, because training would help create a more competitive workforce, increased employee retention and higher employee engagement. I agree on all the benefits the company would get, but ultimately the individual is responsible for their professional development.

I have worked for both types of companies. In the ones with development budgets, I saw former colleagues neglecting opportunities because “they did not have time,” they did not like to travel or simply because they felt it was not needed. In the ones without budgets, I heard the same claims mentioned above.

While working for the latter type of company, I took ownership of my professional development. Instead of seeing roadblocks, I saw opportunities, which led me to do the following:

  • Attend conferences. When I found out the company wouldn’t pay for the conferences I wanted to attend, I explored three options:
  1. Submit a paper. In many cases guest speakers do not have to pay the registration fee, or the fee might be reduced. This has to be done ahead of time during the call-for-papers period
  2. Volunteer to support the event. Volunteers are assigned to different tasks before, during or after the event, but they are allowed to attend the conference while they are not on duty.
  3. Find other ways to save. If options one and two did not work and I saw the value of attending the conference, I looked for early-bird registration or contacted sponsors to see if they would share a discount code to avoid paying the full registration fee.
  • Get stretch assignments. I was looking to learn more about the company and expand my knowledge outside project management, so I looked for an assignment on the business side that would challenge me.
  • Be a volunteer. This gave me the opportunity to give back to my community and support local chapters of professional organizations like PMI. I was able to attend chapter events, such as professional development days or chapter dinners, free of charge, and they helped me discover how to improve my project management capabilities. 

So do not solely hold the company you work for responsible for your growth. Take charge of your professional development. After all, if you do not invest in yourself, nobody will.

How do you take charge of your own professional development?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: February 20, 2019 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

How to Unleash Your Presence as a Leader

By Peter Tarhanidis, MBA, Ph.D. 

In project management, your presence as a leader is vital to your success. But how do you begin to refine this skill set? Start by considering what kind of presence you convey, and how that presence impacts your influence with teams.

Underlying a leader’s presence are sets of behaviors and actions directed toward team members in various situations. A leader must distinguish between the two prevailing behavioral approaches. In the task approach, leaders accomplish their goals by setting structures, organizing work, and defining roles and responsibilities. The relationship approach, on the other hand, employs behaviors to help teams feel at ease within a variety of situations.

In other words: Is the leader driven to treat team members as valued individuals and attend to their needs, or do they see team members as a means to achieving a goal? This approach will affect a leader and their team’s performance.

Project managers are constantly combining these two approaches to influence teams and attain a goal. Clearly, there are certain behaviors that emerge in one’s presence which increase one’s influence over teams. Examples include humility, honesty, confidence, composure and emotional intelligence. But the truth is, influencing teams takes a great deal of time and energy. There is only a certain amount of time and energy one dedicates in every moment. For many project managers this creates a challenge: What can a leader do to be present in every moment?

The opportunity does exist for leaders to train themselves to be present. By applying a certain regimen of actions, a leader can apply a thoughtful approach to increasing their presence. Dedicating yourself to increasing your energy and presence will result in positively influencing teams. Below is a list of four actions to help unleash one’s performance through increased energy, focus and presence:

  1. Define your purpose to engage your passion and goals. Write down an easy and memorable statement that you can use as your personal branding message.
  2. Identify the key relationships that require your energy and balance their needs.
  3. Stay physically and emotionally healthy, which will increase your energy levels.
  4. Take time daily to meditate to recognize your feelings and the consequences of the decisions you need to make to attain your goals.

Let me know how you unleash your performance. Please share your top behavior picks, why they define your presence, and how you successfully increased your influence with teams!

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 06, 2019 10:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

3 Tips For Assuming an Existing Project

As a project manager, there’s perhaps nothing better than starting a new project. With it comes a fresh start and the promise of a successful conclusion. To me, it’s akin to starting a new year in school with new notebooks, where nothing has been written to spoil the fresh sheets of paper.

 

However, as we become more experienced as project managers, we’re called on more and more to assume control of a project already in motion. This might be triggered by a happy event, such as a promotion for the existing project manager, or a less-than-happy situation, such as a lack of progress on the project.

 

Assuming responsibility for a project that has already launched is a lot different than starting from the beginning. You won’t have the benefit of starting with a clean sheet of paper, and there will be things you need to do—and undo.

 

Here are three tips I always follow when assuming control of an existing project:

 

1. Assume Nothing    

When starting a new project, you have the opportunity to perform mobilization and initiation activities to effectively set the project on a path to success. In addition, there are some early checkpoints where you can perform structured control actions to further assure the proper trajectory of the project.  

While the existing project status reports can show the assumed disposition of a project, they may not reveal essential missing activities needed for project success. For example, an existing project might not have had the benefit of a thorough mobilization and initiation effort to properly set its course. In addition, there may be hidden or under-mitigated risks, emerging issues, stakeholder challenges and hidden dependencies that have not yet come to light. 

When taking over an existing project, the first thing I do is review it in the same way I would a new project. Introducing a pause in project activities to perform a “soft reset” allows both confirmation of assumptions and validation of project progress.

In addition, this activity can reveal unseen factors that put the current project position in doubt. This is a good time to reforecast the remaining work. By assuming nothing about the project, the “soft reset” serves as a basis to properly transition the project towards success.

 

2. Match the Team to the Realistic Remaining Work  

One of the most important facets of a soft reset is reforecasting the amount of remaining work. Use the existing forecast as a foundation for considering other factors that may influence the future progress of the project. These may include effort, scheduling conflicts (e.g., year-end holidays), upcoming business process changes and technology-readiness dependencies. 

From the reforecast, compare these factors against the capacity and capabilities of the existing project team. Review whether you have the requisite skills and team members available for each phase of the project. In addition, consider the availability of key resources who cannot be readily substituted in case they are not able to work on the project. This examination of project resources by phase should include not only individual team members, but also team leads and third-party suppliers.

 

3. Engage More Frequently With the Most Accountable Stakeholder

While there are many inorganic components of a project, such as deliverables and status reports, often the most critical components revolve around the organic nature of people. Having strong executive sponsorship, a structured governance engagement model and open communication all enable project success.

When you are introduced as the new project manager on an existing effort, some change management work will need to be done to ensure a smooth transition.

Given the myriad stakeholders involved in a project, who should you start with? The typical consideration is to start with the most senior leadership stakeholder, who is typically also the project sponsor.

I think, however, a better place to start is with the most accountable stakeholder. This would be the person who after the project is implemented would manage the new solution to achieve the project objectives. In addition, this person would likely have the greatest knowledge of requirements and implementation considerations, which would be valuable to your soft reset.

 

Set Your Team Up for Success
When airline pilots transfer control of an aircraft to another pilot, they go through a structured process. Before control is transferred, the flying pilot does a check of instruments, course and speed. The pilot currently flying and the pilot taking over the controls exchange a distinct exchange of commands to ensure a precise transition and a safe flight.  

Assuming control of an existing project should have that same level of attention to detail and precision. Now that you are leading this existing project, be sure to consider the factors shared above that confidently allow you to say, “I have the controls.”

When assuming existing projects, what sort of activities do you perform as part of a transition? I’d welcome other thoughts to help make us all better project managers.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: February 02, 2019 06:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Project Management for Business Transformation

Make it or break it!

In the world of Business Transformation (BT), project management plays a critical part in the successful delivery of the business transformation programs to an extend where I can say it is a “Make it or Break it”

And why is that?

Imagine a school music play and the effort required to coordinate everything to get it done successfully. Of course, there is a lot of planning, coordination and execution that goes into it to produce a high quality school play

Now imagine an orchestra and the effort required to get this done successfully. In essence and to the inexperienced eye, the tasks may be similar but the effort and complexity are just a different ball game altogether

This is the same thing when it comes to managing a non-BT project and a BT project. The main tasks of initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and closing may look the same on the surface but underneath the skeleton,  is a different level of complexity

Having said that, BT project management requires a different calibre of project managers to help get the beast out of the door while achieving business outcomes

To be on the same page, let’s define what business transformation is. Business transformation is a significant change that an organization goes through impacting its people, process and/or technology. The change is usually a complex one with long term business outcomes to be achieved   

Project management becomes the core part of delivering the business transformation and ensure that business outcomes are achieved. The calibre of the BT project manager is therefore a lot more complex and at a higher level of maturity. Below are the key characteristics for a successful business transformation project manager  

Exceptional Business Acumen

  • Ability to lose the jargon and speak to the business in their own language
  • Come from a place of wanting to understand what the business wants and needs
  • Makes no assumptions about what success looks like but instead co-create with it with the business
  • Understands the business vision and direction and how to best position the project to fulfil the business outcomes
  • Keep everyone accountable to achieving measurable business outcomes  

Visionary and can see beyond the short term goals

  • Able to mentally fast forward the current events to predict issues and resolve them early on
  • Proactively seek guidance and collaboration to ensure alignment
  • Understand the art of the unspoken word and the goal behind the goal
  • Able to manoeuvre and venture into the political landscape of the organization and foster relationship building

Can see different angles and prospective

  • Understand the business interdependencies, people impact and technology constraints
  • Able to see the logic in the various stakeholder groups’ points of view and make sense of them all to come to a well-rounded conclusion
  • Understand the different motives of the various levels in the organization i.e. executives, management and front liners

Diversified skill set

  • Having a diverse skill set is key in the success of BT project management. This allows the project manager to properly articulate what is required and most importantly see the missing links
  • Able to work better with the project team members coming from a land of similar experiences (not necessarily at the same level of depth)

Knows and understands failure

  • A project manager who have seen this, done that would have a higher level of exposure to different setups and problems which enriches their ability to problem solving
  • Have seen the good, the bad and the ugly means they can smell failure from a mile away and able to take action to set proper direction to avoid it or have the proper contingencies in place

Knows the job and acts beyond it

  • In the world of BT, project managers hardly have a job description to follow. For hiring purposes, yes they might have one but when doing the doing and working day-in day-out; they work on ensuring that the BT project is delivered successfully. This will take them beyond the scope of works to understand the wider environment of the project and resolve problems and issues that may “technically” be out of the project scope “the agreed baseline scope”
  • BT project manager does not say “Sorry, this is not my job!”

 

Posted by Jess Tayel on: January 31, 2019 06:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Do You Know The 3 Drivers Of Project Success?

by Dave Wakeman

I recently came across some of management guru Peter Drucker’s thoughts on project management. 

As often happens with Drucker’s writing, the lessons he wrote about many years ago are still applicable today. 

In his thinking about project management, Drucker came up with the idea that it really came down to three ideas: objectives, measurements and results. 

Let’s take each of these areas and think about how we should approach them today. 

Objectives: Many projects get stuck before they even begin, due to a poor framing of the project’s objectives. We should be undertaking our projects only when we have moved through the project-planning phase to such an extent that we have a strong grasp of what we are hoping to achieve. 

These objectives shouldn’t be fuzzy or wishy-washy. They should be solid and rooted in the overall strategy of the organization you are performing the project for. 

This means you have to ask the question: “Does this project move us toward our goals?”

If the answer is “yes,” it’s likely a project that should be launched.

If the answer is “no,” it’s likely a project that needs to be fleshed out more, rethought or not undertaken at all.          

Measurements: Drucker is famous for this adage: What gets measured gets managed. 

In thinking about project management, measurements aren’t just about being able to improve project delivery. They’re also essential to ensure the project is headed in the right direction. 

To effectively measure our projects, we need to have laid out key measurements alongside the project’s objectives. 

The measurements should be specific, with expected outputs and completion dates, so you can affirm whether you are on schedule, behind schedule or ahead of schedule. 

At the same time, the measurements should inform you of your progress as it compares to your strategic goals. 

Results: Ultimately, projects are about results. 

To paraphrase another great thinker, Nick Saban: If you focus on doing your job right on each play, you’ll put yourself in a position to be successful at achieving your goals.

Saban coaches U.S. football, but this works just as well for all of us in project management. 

If we are focusing our energy on tying our projects to our organization’s strategy, through this strategy we focus our project efforts on the correct objectives in line with our strategy. Then we use those objectives to measure our progress against the strategy. We should be putting ourselves in a position to get the results that we need from our projects. 

These results should be measured as positive outcomes. In Saban’s case, that’s wins. In your case, it might be a new technology solution, a successful new ad campaign or a profitable fundraising effort. 

To me, reviewing Drucker’s thoughts on project management is a reminder: Even though there is a constant pull of new technologies, never-ending demands on our attention and a world where change feels accelerated, sometimes the best course of action is to step back, slow down and get back to the basics.

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 18, 2019 10:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)
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