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
Jess Tayel
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

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Specialist or Generalist: The Great Career Conundrum

Project Management Is For Everyone

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Specialist or Generalist: The Great Career Conundrum

Categories: Agile

by Cyndee Miller

It’s the era of the ultra-specialized niche expert.

Companies don’t just make beer. They brew limited batches of Belgian sour ale with tones of organic blueberry and almond.

Companies don’t just crank out mattresses. They create customized sleeping experiences. Yes, there’s the traditional innerspring model available in countless iterations of firmness. But perhaps you’d prefer a foam number neatly packed up in a box? No prob.

So it stands to reason the trend would follow through to careers. In theory, organizations would seek out project and program managers with super-specialized skills, someone steeped in agile or someone with a complete mastery of waterfall.

But organizations are realizing projects don’t fall neatly into one category in the real world. One project may demand waterfall in the upfront stages then switch into agile or hybrid.

“Organizations are facing complex challenges and competing priorities,” Marivi Briz, PMI-ACP, PMP, global internet of things business development manager at Telefónica Chile, Santiago, Chile, told PMI’s Career Central. “They want project managers who aren’t just applying the same methodology to every project, but are able to build consensus around a particular approach and share a larger vision.”

Agile may get the buzz, but smart organizations know it all comes down to using what works.

“Executives care less about a pure agile or waterfall approach than they do about achieving results,” said Manuel Salero Coca, PMP, program manager director—Latin America, Huawei Technologies Co., Mexico City, Mexico. (Check out Mr. Coca’s comments in the 2018 Jobs Report in the January PM Network.)

In today’s project landscape, Rhonda V. Evans, PMP, envisions a project management office (PMO) that has “all methodologies in play.”

“You are no longer an agile shop or a waterfall-based PMO, you are a methodology- agnostic PMO,” she wrote on LinkedIn last year. “A business case or need is defined and approved. It then goes to the PMO or portfolio management team for review with the executive sponsor or product owner. … The right-fit methodology is then chosen based on several predefined factors. Each inherent framework/methodology will come with its own rules for flexing and growing and changing with the business.”

For project and program managers looking to get ahead in their career (i.e., pretty much everyone), it just doesn’t pay to slavishly follow one approach. They must sharpen their skills across the entire delivery spectrum.

“We’re in a continuously changing world, and project managers don’t want to limit an organization to only one method or the other,” said Jordi Teixido, PMP, chief operating officer at fintech company Strands and project management consultant, KION, Barcelona, Spain. “Project managers should be well-versed in standups and sprints, but also critical path and critical chain.”

And that applies to your professional brand, too. This is probably not the time to proclaim yourself a hardcore agile evangelist or a do-or-die authority on predictive.

“I’ve probably interviewed hundreds of project managers, and those who present themselves as experts in only one methodology seem destined to have limited opportunities,” said Mike O’Brochta, PMI-ACP, PMP, president of Zozer, a project management firm in Roanoke, Virginia, USA.

It pays to position yourself as fluent in all approaches — and build a social media profile that reflects your skills and strengths in each one. Alongside project details like scope, budget and schedule, professional profiles and portfolios should spell out details on the approach used to execute the project, said Wafi Mohtaseb, PMI-ACP, PMP, head of applications support, Kuwait Finance House, Kuwait City, Kuwait.

What are you seeing in your career path?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: December 01, 2017 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

The Importance of Iteration

by Christian Bisson, PMP

We’ve all encountered them on a project or two: stakeholders that want everything right away.

The result of this rush is often lots of money invested, a tight schedule, negative impact on the quality and frustrated people. But, carefully planned iterations of a project can help avoid the negativities of rushed efforts.

Here’s why:

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

A well thought out MVP is the first iteration of your project. It means planning for the smallest scope possible, keeping in mind that it still needs to bring business value.

Let’s say you’re building a website. In this scenario, you’d identify the main features your website should have — based on goals — and focus on those instead of spreading the effort on all the features that might seem great to have.

There are many advantages to the MVP approach:

  • It can be deployed much faster compared to the complete scope.
  • You can monitor your project in action (ex. Google Analytics).
  • You can gather valuable feedback from people who use it.

Room to Adjust

Since you haven’t spent all the budget on the entire scope — and you now have precious data gathered from various sources — you can plan based on facts rather than hypotheses.

For example, after the MVP is deployed, you might have planned to work on a new feature. However, if new data suggests that the main feature of your project is not quite user friendly and needs adjustments, you can prioritize the adjustment and quickly add more value to your project compared to adding a new feature that might be less important.

Deploy When Ready

The MVP is only the first of many iterations. Do not fall back into the trap of building everything before you deploy your first update. Using the example above, if the first feature is actively affecting the quality of your project, adjust it and deploy right away. That way you will gain the added value of your improvement right away.

Some might argue that deployments cost money so you shouldn’t deploy all the time, and it’s a fair point. But keep in mind that the cost of those well-planned deployments are negligible compared to all the budget you can waste on a misfocused effort or a wrong hypothesis.

Taking a step-by-step approach to project management is crucial to the long-term success of projects. How do you manage the iterative or MVP approach? 

Posted by Christian Bisson on: November 04, 2017 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Mix & Match

Categories: Agile

by Cyndee Miller

It was almost like watching rival cliques at school, die-hard agilistas matching wits with waterfall purists. The drama was always quite civil, mostly limited to snobbish comments dismissing the merits of the rival approach.

But lately — and frankly, I never thought I’d say this — they’re learning to play nice.

Some of this comes down to organizations not willing to take sides. They’re simply letting the best approach win.

“Most companies are becoming more results-oriented and less methodologically dogmatic,” said Bryan Berthot, PMI-ACP, PMP, project manager, AT&T Entertainment Group in a recent article on PMI.org. “They empower their project teams to choose their preferred project management framework — as long as they deliver results.”

Forget the preconceived notions. Teams are using whatever they need for the project at hand.

Check out the numbers in PMI’s 2017 Pulse of the Profession: While plenty of project professionals said they relied on agile or waterfall for recent projects, 20 percent used hybrid. And 23 percent relied on something other than agile, hybrid or plan-driven approaches, which could be a further blend or customization of approaches.

Social networking king and Silicon Valley mainstay LinkedIn seems like a natural for all agile, all the time. But when the company launched an overhaul of its website, the project leaders decided to go hybrid.

Mind you, this is a company steeped in sprints and fast-track developments, and now it’s adopting an agile/waterfall hybrid approach. The rationale? Allow project managers to incorporate user and stakeholder feedback — while retaining a sense of urgency.

“This hybrid approach enabled us to define requirements at the beginning of the project and provided the needed flexibility and transparency to adapt to the fast-changing requirements,” Ranjit Dhaman, PMP, senior staff technical program manager at the company, told PM Network. “We were building a foundation for future product innovation, and a quick turnaround time was needed to keep up the pace with daily product releases.”

It’s not just agile teams adopting waterfall ways, of course.

French tire-maker Michelin says it’s developing an agile approach to project, program and portfolio management.

“We believe that agility could also be used in multiple ways — in everything we do,” Philippe Husser, senior partner, progress direction, said in PMI’s latest Pulse of the Profession. “The world is changing very quickly around us, so much so that we cannot afford anymore to have projects taking two to five years to deliver because, during this time, the initial requirements have changed.”

The company now has project managers, along with a steering committee and project sponsor, select the best approach for each project together.

It’s just like those fine ladies of En Vogue would say: Free your mind and the rest will follow.

What’s happening on your projects? Do you and your teams gravitate toward one approach? Or are you doing whatever you need to do?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: September 19, 2017 07:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Agile Evolves

Categories: Agile, PMI

by Cyndee Miller

Agile is the punk rock of project management. After years of living on the fringe, it’s officially gone mainstream—much to the joy of some and the utter dismay of others.

Like punk, it was built around a call to disrupt the status quo.

When a group of software programmers wrote the agile manifesto 16 years ago, the big goal was to embrace change: “to be aware of changes to the product under development, the needs and wishes of the users, the competition, the market and the technology,” Andy Hunt, a co-author of the agile manifesto, told PM Network last year.

While that purpose still holds true, the agile club is no longer limited to software developers, startup leaders and waterfall haters. An HPE survey showed agile’s ascendancy from anti-establishment to mainstream really took off in the past five years, with a significant adoption inflection point occurring around 2010. And check out the current numbers: Ninety-four percent of the survey respondents in the latest VersionOne State of Agile survey said their organizations practiced agile. PMI recently partnered with Agile Alliance on an Agile Practice Guide.

Some of this comes down to the business world’s obsession with digital transformation, which 42 percent of execs say they’ve begun, according to a 2017 Gartner survey. As Jason Bloomberg, president of Intellyx, wrote: Companies are increasingly going agile “to successfully navigate the disruptive waters that threaten to drown them.”

Take South Africa’s Standard Bank. Facing competition from a rapidly expanding fintech sector, this 155-year-old bastion of financial service embarked on a multiyear digital transformation—with a shift to agile software dev at the center, according to McKinsey.

Not everyone, however, was onboard. I know, shocker, right? To change hearts and minds, the company’s CTO and his team held town hall meetings to explain their logic and set targets for the transition, gave teams autonomy to make decisions on how to go about their day-to-day functions, and co-located team members for better collaboration.

So far, so good. In early agile engagements, Standard Bank reported productivity increases of up to 50 percent and unit-cost reductions of up to 70 percent per function point.

But for some, agile’s entrance into the mainstream has given rise to a new challenge: the dilution of the very term. Mr. Hunt told PM Network the word has become “sloganized” and is “meaningless at best, jingoist at worst.”

In that same article, Jordi Teixido, PMP, COO at Strands, Barcelona, Spain, said: “Agile is wonderful when you’re really iterating and collaborating, but it’s also a refuge for mediocre practitioners who are unable to document or express their requirements or forecast what they want to build. If you don’t follow the rules of the game in waterfall, everyone knows it. But in agile, that’s harder to tell from the outside—and because of that, some people use agile on projects that would be far better under waterfall.”

What do you think? Is your organization using more agile? And do companies have a grasp on what the term really means?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: September 07, 2017 05:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Maximizing the Value of Agile

Categories: Agile

By Lynda Bourne

Everyone wants to “go agile.” But far too many organizations seem to think agile is simply a different way of doing project work that will miraculously achieve major efficiencies. 

For the approach to achieve its promise, the upper echelons of the organization need to become agile aware and adapt the way projects are initiated, funded and governed so that the project team can optimize their use of agile processes to create value. After all, one size does not fit every situation in an agile world.

I’d like to look at the differences in the management approach that are needed to maximize the value of agile in different situations.

One quick note: Different agile methodologies have different terminology and approaches. For this post, agile is defined as producing an output using a series of relatively short, time-boxed iterations, or sprints, where the work to be accomplished in each sprint is sized to be relatively consistent (e.g., can be accomplished by a team in two weeks), and what is to be done in each sprint is determined during the lead-up to that sprint.

There are three environments where the agile approach can add value:

1. Maintenance environments: In these efforts, the application of agile concepts without the need for project management overheads can be very beneficial. Techniques including small focused teams, short sprints, backlog prioritization, and management. Burn down reporting can show how much maintenance work is facing the teams, the team efficiencies, and the overall backlog trend.

Agile does not need to be embedded in a program or project to be effective. In this situation, the finance and resources (i.e., the agile teams) are the fixed constraints; the organization’s budgeting procedure funds a predetermined level of staffing on an annual basis. The management variable is the amount of work accomplished each month and deals with new and emerging maintenance issues and minor enhancements in a timely manner based on some effective form of prioritization.

2. Contractual or legal obligations: In projects like these, the scope of work is fixed (or at least subject to formal change control) and the management variables are efficiency and cost consequences. In this environment, with adaptation, a whole range of standard project management processes such as earned value can be applied to the oversight of project work and used for management reporting and project control. The agile teams still function in the traditional agile way, sizing the amount of work included in each sprint, producing usable outputs in short intervals and progressively building toward the completed project. The management challenge is achieving the specified scope within the approved time and cost parameters.

3. Projects that lack a defined scope: In these projects, the client often has a vision of what the outcome should achieve, frequently framed in terms of business improvements. In this situation, the project is on a journey to optimize the delivery of as much of the vision as is sensible. The management variables for this type of project include scope, cost and time.

Decisions will have to be made about which parameters are more important—either as an overall consideration or on an element-by-element view of the various components within the project.

a. In some projects, time to market is a key factor, possibly with scope as the second most important factor. And, to a large extent, how much it costs to achieve the necessary scope within the deadline will be a consequence rather than the control. The primary management challenge is delivering the scope required to implement the vision within the time constraint as efficiently as possible.

b. Other projects have the quality of the vision as their primary drive, and the management challenge is to achieve all of the vision for the optimum time and cost outcomes. Decisions on how much and how long can vary depending on progress toward achieving the vision. Obviously, there must be some cost and time constraints. And a key conversation with the client has to be around the value proposition of still achieving their vision based on cost information to date, with the possibility of adapting the vision based on learned experience as the project proceeds.

c. Lastly, in some projects where the available funds are limited, the challenge for management is to achieve as much of the vision as possible within the defined funding limit, frequently with time as an additional limitation imposed by the funding cycle or the market. To maximize value, the client needs to be fully engaged in the decision-making process around scope inclusions, deferrals, and exclusions.

Once you understand the agile framework you’re operating within, the real challenge is making sure your clients and other senior stakeholders also understand that an agile approach to project delivery requires very different governance and decision-making processes. Organizational agility starts at the top by setting the right challenges for the agile teams within the right funding model. The next step is to use appropriate assurance functions to make sure agile teams are delivering what’s needed to create value—old-fashioned budgeting processes are unlikely to be appropriate.

How do you go about engaging your senior stakeholders in this type of conversation?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: August 24, 2017 07:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)
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